There is No Shame in Stealing from the Best

You don’t have to reinvent the wheel every time you confront a new or unfamiliar situation. It is important to your progress as an attorney to learn from other’s mistakes and successes.

I remember taking my son into a local music store called “B.J.’s Guitar Island” here in Indy, so my son could take guitar lessons. After one of his lessons, an older gentleman walked in and started talking to the owner. He picked up an inexpensive electric guitar and started to make it wail beautifully. The older guy laid out guitar lick on top of guitar lick. My son and I stood by mesmerized. He looked up at my son and said “I can tell you really love music… I can see it in your eyes.” He continued, “Son, there’s nothing new in music. There are just eight notes and there only so many ways you can put them together. Listen to all kinds of music from the best, even if you don’t necessarily like it. It will make you a better musician and don’t be afraid to steal from the best.” The man we saw and spoke to that day was Rock-A-Billy Legend, Ronnie Haig. My son followed his advice. A decade later my son graduated from college with a degree in Recording Arts from Butler University. My son and a friend from school wrote, created, performed and produced their own album which is now on iTunes.

The same principle applies to attorneys. When I got out of law school, I clerked for a federal judge and had the chance to learn from the best and worse of the bar. I saw Roy Black out of Miami defend Ron Malinowski in a federal drug kingpin case on the heels of a successful defense by Black of a Miami police officer charged with the murder of a black teenager. The case made national headlines. Roy Black is famous for number of cases including his successful defense of William Kennedy Smith in a rape case. He had a warm, humble and professorial manner. While his defense was ultimately unsuccessful, I remember that his closing argument was masterful. As Roy Black began, he approached the jury and warmly greeted them, “Good morning ladies and gentlemen.” The jury immediately answered back in unison like they were school kids, “Good morning, Mr. Black.” The Oscar Awards had just happened and Black attacked the government’s “flipped” witnesses by awarding them and the government DEA agents various Oscars for their “performance.” It was a fantastic closing in a very difficult case. The court reporter had tears streaming down his face as he strained to maintain his composure in an effort to keep from laughing. He later transcribed the closing argument even though it was unnecessary and was kind enough to give me a copy. I still have the transcript and have read though it a number of times.

There are websites, such as Famous Trials (, which have a treasure trove of information from historic legal battles. There are likewise books such as “The Devil’s Advocates: Greatest Closing Arguments in Criminal Law” and “Ladies and Gentlemen of the Jury” by Michael S. Lief that contain abridged transcripts of famous closings.

So learn and steal from the best! You will be better trial attorney for it.

About Richard A. Cook

Richard Cook graduated from Purdue University in the Economics Honor Program in 1979 and obtained his Juris Doctor degree from Valparaiso University School of Law in 1982. Following law school, Richard served as a federal law clerk in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Indiana, Hammond Division. In 1984, Richard began working as Deputy Prosecutor for the Lake County Prosecutor's Office and from there, served as Assistant U. S. Attorney for the Northern District of Indiana, South Bend Division. There he handled a number of complex criminal matters and jury trials. While there, Richard received the Chief Postal Inspector's Special Award and a letter of commendation from the U.S. Attorney General for his work prosecuting a major money order fraud scheme being perpetrated out of the Indiana State Prison system. Since leaving the U.S. Attorney's office in 1989, Richard has focused primarily on civil work and is currently a member of the firm Yosha Cook & Tisch in Indianapolis. Richard is also a member of the ITLA, IBA and the ABA, as well as, a fellow for the American College of Trial Lawyers. He is AV rated by Martindale-Hubbell.

Posted on September 29, 2013, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Hey Richard, RONNIE HAIG here!!!
    I remember running into you and your dad that day. Hope that advice did you well.
    Hey, how about a copy of that album you released????? I’d love to have it.

    Ronnie Haig

    • My son and I would love meet up with you and personally give you a copy of his CD. Your generosity that day was really inspirational and was taken to heart by my son. He began exploring all types of music. He studied recording arts at Butler. Give me a call. My cellphone is 317-965-1363. Thanks.

      Rich Cook

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